How Giants might tackle dilemma of re-signing Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Ralph Vacchiano
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Leonard Williams Treated Art
Leonard Williams Treated Art

Dave Gettleman tells his players he wants them to be so successful that “I want you to make me cry when it comes to negotiations.”

Now it’s time for the tears.

The Giants GM faces a very expensive pair of decisions over the next three weeks as he tries to figure out a way to keep his strong defensive line together. Both Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson are scheduled to be free agents on March 17, and both figure to cash in after strong seasons. The cost for Williams could be a blockbuster deal worth $20 million per year after his 11 ½-sack season. Tomlinson’s value is considerably less, but he still figures to get an average of $8-10 million per season.

The Giants, meanwhile, are currently pressed up against what is expected to be a shrunken salary cap of $180-185 million, which is why even using the franchise or transition tags won’t help them out of this jam.

They do have relatively easy ways to clear $20-30 million of cap space with a few strategic cuts and contract restructures. It just might take all of it to keep intact a line that was the strength of a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL against the run last season. And still, given how many other needs the Giants have – like at receiver, cornerback and along the offensive line – it’s unclear if they can.

Williams figures to be the priority for the Giants, even though he might be the most expensive non-quarterback they’ve ever signed. The 26-year-old played last season on the franchise tag for $16.1 million after the Giants had traded a third- and fifth-round pick to the Jets for him the year before. The Giants had hoped to sign him to a long-term contract last February, but according to multiple sources, the sides were never close to a deal.

The Giants’ offer at the time, a source said, wasn’t even an average of the franchise tag value, while Williams was looking for a blockbuster deal worth at least $18 million per year. Then he went out and thrived in Patrick Graham’s defense and finally fulfilled all the promise he had when the Jets made him the sixth pick of the draft back in 2015.

And considering he’ll still only turn 27 years old in June, his asking price isn’t likely to go down. He could be looking at a five-year deal worth more than $100 million, with more than $60 million of that guaranteed.

Tomlinson, on the other hand, has uncertain value because of what is widely expected to be a depressed free agent market. There could be a flood of good players available as some teams scramble to make cuts just to get under the salary cap. Many NFL agents expect a lot of free agents to accept one-year contracts with the hopes of cashing in when the cap presumably rises again in 2022.

That might be the Giants’ best bet to bring back Tomlinson, who turns 27 on Sunday. And they certainly do want to bring him back. He was a defensive captain last year, a team leader and a key cog in their revitalized run defense. But despite his solid numbers – 49 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, 8 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits -- he’s not the kind of impact player likely to get the real big money on this year’s market. So a one-year deal, or even just a shorter deal might make some sense.

Ideally, the Giants would get deals with one or both of them wrapped up before free agency begins. And if they get close with either of them in the next two weeks, that’s when the franchise tag would come into play. They could use it as a “place-holder” to buy them an extra week to reach an agreement before free agency begins, and as insurance that if they don’t, the player won’t be able to just walk away.

But even that’s an expensive gamble. Using either tag on Williams would cost $19.3 million – 120 percent of his salary from last season, according to NFL rules for players tagged in back-to-back years. For Tomlinson, the franchise for defensive tackles is expected to cost about $14 million and the transition tag figures to cost about $11 million – both likely more than the Giants are willing to spend.

Since those tags immediately count against the salary cap, carrying tags for either player could seriously hamper the Giants’ ability to sign other free agents when the market opens on March 17. So if the Giants choose to use either tag before the deadline of March 9, it’s likely a good sign that a deal on a new contract is near.

Until then, all Gettleman has are his tears and his hope that somehow he can keep the Giants’ 12th-ranked defense intact. He has three weeks to figure out a way to make that happen -- and to turn those tears into tears of joy.